Tag: pedagogy

Metacognition Series: 2 of 6

Metacognition Series: 2 of 6

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This is the 2nd blog post of a 6-post series on Metacognition. You can find post 1 here.
(If you’ve read post 1, skip straight to the key themes below. I’ll keep the intro the same at the top of each post.)
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INTRO
In my recently-appointed role as a Lead Learner, I have been charged with delivering a series of six enquiry sessions for teachers on the theme of Metacognition*. Both a challenge and a privilege to lead such a great, diverse group of teachers with varying levels of experience and responsibility, I’ve been taking my research very seriously. (*For more information on our CPD Programme, designed by my colleague, Phil Stock, see his blog post here.)
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The sequence of posts I intend to write over the course of this year will 1. outline key areas addressed in sessions, 2. share questions that have arisen from our group discussions (sometimes as a result of the pre-reading that has been set), 3. offer points of interest from research studies that I continue to contemplate at each stage.
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I should make it clear from the outset – I have no doubt in my mind that metacognitive strategies can significantly enhance the learning of an individual, be they 5 or 95. With a grandparent of 89 who recently completed a BA degree in Humanities, I (and I know he does too) fully adhere to the notion that a high dose of metacognition and self-regulation can vastly improve the educational journey for a learner. It is the whos and whys and whens and hows that I believe need further thought.


8 themes from session 2:

  1. We recalled session 1 themes
    Teachers were presented with a challenging multiple choice quiz in order to familiarise themselves with themes from the first session, putting metacognitive strategies into action from the start. These were completed in silence (I know what a bunch of cheaters some of them are*). Following that, answers were shared in pairs and then “official” answers were revealed and discussed as a group.
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    *Joking. It’s all of them.
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  2. We grappled with the complexities of the pre-reading
    Engaging in a superb reflective conversation regarding the pre-reading material**, we discussed whether some of the research available on self-regulation might cause a teacher to feel somewhat impotent in attempting to promote metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies. One teacher questioned what impact we have as educators in developing a learner’s metacognitive skills, since the role of genetics appears to play such a significant part in this area. This was a heavy but fruitful discussion and, as the session progressed, many of the questions that were raised at the beginning were responded to in one way or another, thus leading us to resolve that we do have a big responsibility in this area – particularly with regard to:
    a) nurturing a calm, focused learning environment,
    b) modeling thinking strategies we expect our students to use, and
    c) continuing to establish effective teacher-student relationships, all of which can greatly enhance the learning journey.
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    **Pre-reading list:
    1. Daniel Willingham, Can teachers increase students’ self-control?
    2. John Hattie, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, Ch. 9: Acquiring complex skills through social modelling and explicit teaching
    3. Education Endowment Fund, Metacognitive and Self-Regulation Strategies
    4. Research Leads Improving Students’ Education (RISE), “Metacognition Short RISE Case Study” (not available online)
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  3. We observed a metacognitive strategy in action
    Soon after the first session was over, one teacher informed me that they had completed the pre-reading and had planned to explicitly model a metacognitive strategy in their lesson the following day. Being the eager soul that I am, I requested that we filmed it and used it to share in Session 2, to which he kindly agreed. As a group, we watched a short clip of this strategy in action. The footage demonstrated the breaking down of a paragraph structure into smaller steps, with the students and teacher together verbalising the process before attempting to write. We considered the strengths of this model, with the teacher commenting on their lesson and expanding on details of the actions that followed.
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  4. We contemplated our current education system
    The question was posed to teachers regarding how much space we allow for thinking to take place in our education system. When we are planning and researching as teachers, we think. Of course we think. I’m certain that any half-decent teacher will be thinking when preparing for an upcoming lesson or series of lessons. I’m also pretty sure, though, that a good teacher will go one step further and think meta-cognitively about how to deliver an idea to a class full of pupils, structuring their lessons in accordance with that. Those good teachers are characterised by their initiative, prompting them to consider these questions when planning:
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    What should I teach? Why is this important? How will this connect to previous sessions? What prior knowledge do my students already have in order to make necessary associations with this new information, to enhance memory storage and future retrieval? What hurdles do I need to anticipate in the learning process? Which questions should I plan to ask that might lead to a greater understanding of this concept? What positive learning outcomes will we see if this is a successful lesson?
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    It is the difference in the thought processes between those half-decent teachers and those good teachers that matter.
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    As a profession, we need to be asking,
    ‘Does [our education system/my school/this unit of work/the lessons I plan] provide enough opportunities for learners to think deeply about ideas and concepts? Are we fostering a culture that recognises the value of independent thinking? Or have we taken the burden of thinking away from our students who wait at the ready, through no fault of their own, to be fed from the metaphorical spoon? <- Definitely a loaded question.
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    Two relevant clips from the same TED Talk by Dr Derek Cabrera, a cognitive psychologist in the US, were shared. The intention was to offer teachers an opportunity to contemplate how vital the process of deep thinking is for learners.
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    Metacognition Session 2b
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    Clip 1: Watch from 3.40m-5.13m
    *Spoiler alert*
    Clip 1 Summary
    Cabrera: “We are, as curriculum designers and teachers and educators, over-engineering the content curriculum, and we’re surgically removing the thinking so that our kids are simply following instructions, painting by the numbers and getting the grade.”
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    Clip 2: Watch from 7.45m-11.50m
    *Spoiler alert*
    Clip 2 Summary
    The 4 universal thinking skills Cabrera insists are essential for learners to engage in are:
  1. Making distinctions: the ability to define terms and create more sophisticated, nuanced ones. If learners can grasp definitions and take ownership of meanings and distinctions, they are “bringing something into existence”.
  2. Looking at the parts and the wholes of systems: the ability to identify the smaller parts that make a whole and that a whole is a combination of smaller parts – “they can construct new ideas and deconstruct old or existing ideas”.
  3. Recognising relationships: the ability to make connections between subjects. Our education system pockets learning into discrete subject areas, isolated from one another. Cabrera acknowledges the stark contrast between this format and the rest of the world. He argues that, “the world is a very interconnected place”.
  4. Taking multiple perspectives: the ability to view a situation/idea/relationship from a number of different perspectives. Cabrera suggests that, “everything looks different when you take a new perspective” and advises that this skill leads to increased empathy, increased compassion, increased pro-social thinking and emotional development.
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  1. We considered the infamous ‘Marshmallow Test’
    Studying the complexities of Walter Mischel’s notorious experiment on self-regulation and its findings, we acknowledged the vast contribution to education that this study and subsequent similar replications have made. Accepting the high correlation between those children who were able to deny themselves one marshmallow in the valiant effort to wait for another (after a substantial amount of waiting time) and their positive SAT scores/ healthy BMI scores/ lower rates of addiction or divorce etc., we agreed that this study did demonstrate plausible helpful findings in the area of metacognition. However, as a result of much research from later studies and the analyses of cognitive psychologists who have publicly critiqued the Marshmallow Test, it remains unclear whether we can safely assume that the results really did demonstrate different levels of self-regulation or not. Critics who find fault with Mischel’s early findings question whether the test revealed less about self-regulation and more, in fact, about an individual’s respect for authority or their response to a reliable stimulus. From this perspective, it could be argued that children who have greater respect or trust in authority are more likely to wait longer in a timed trial, in comparison with those who have lesser respect or trust for authority and are, therefore, less likely to wait.
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    In order to provide a balanced overview of the Marshmallow Test findings, one subsequent research study in particular was shared. In 2010, Rochester University in the USA replicated the study with one additional stage prior to the marshmallow test.
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    Metacognition Session 2aa
    Participating children were asked to sit in a room on their own, where the marshmallow test would be carried out later on. Before the test, each child was asked to wait in the room and decorate a piece of card that would be used to make a personalised plastic cup. All of the children were told by an adult that they could begin decorating the card with the few measly pencils available. The adult promised to return with a much better range of art materials in a few minutes, but the children were encouraged to make a start while the adult was gone.
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    Group 1 (the ‘reliable environment’): After a few minutes, children in this group received the better resources, as promised.
    Group 2 (AKA the ‘unreliable environment’): After a few minutes, children in this group were visited by the adult again but without the resources, apologising that they did not have the art materials they had promised.
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    It was after this additional stage that the original marshmallow test was then carried out. The findings were astounding. The average wait time in the marshmallow test for both groups are shown below.
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Metacognition Session 2 (1)

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Average wait times:
Group 2 (the ‘unreliable environment’):   waited 3:02 secs
Group 1 (the ‘reliable environment’):      waited 12:02 secs
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This is big stuff.
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If these studies reveal what they appear to reveal, this depth of understanding of our learners could offer some serious insight into the influences that shape self-regulatory behaviour. It is this contextual information that teachers could then lay as a firm foundation on which to establish the most effective pedagogical approach for a particular group of students.
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  1. We learnt that self-regulation is not inherently individualistic
    According to John Hattie, educational researcher and author of ‘Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn’ (2014), one’s capacity for self-regulation is not predetermined by their genetic make-up, but is more a result of the social constructs to which they have been exposed.
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    In his book, he states,
    “What has emerged over recent years is a conception of the individual placing self-control, determination and willpower, at the core. But there is a twist: the ability to use self-control is not an inherently individualistic matter. It is neither stoicism nor moral rectitude. Instead, it is a matter of social development and learning.”
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  1. We identified four possible categories of self-regulation
    A meta-analysis of self-regulation studies carried out in the Netherlands (2012) identified four key headings under which a plethora of self-regulation strategies could be grouped.
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    These are:
    1. Cognitive
    2. Metacognitive
    3. Management
    4. Motivation
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    Metacognition Session 2aaa
  1. We compared ‘self-regulated achievement’ with ‘self-regulated learning’
    Acknowledging the pressures of an education system where teachers have been continually judged on student performance rather than a more natural, steady progression of a much deeper learning, we engaged in a very civil but stimulating debate, where contrasting perspectives on the overall purpose of education were discussed.
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    I’m paraphrasing, but this was the general gist:‘What is our ultimate goal as educators? Are we teaching self-regulation simply for our students to then reach the work force and become exploited by employers? Or do we have a responsibility to guide and support them in their thinking as independent and mindful citizens?’
    ‘But don’t you have to demonstrate compliance in order to fit into the social construct of a workforce?’

    ‘Is an understanding of social norms, then, the same as churning out factory-educated children who are incapable of thoughts?’

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Questions prompted by this session:

  • In light of the research around the huge influence of those early formative years, what strategies can we employ to enhance the self-regulation habits of our learners?
  • How can the social constructs within a school environment (adult-student, student-student, adult-adult) positively model the power of metacognition and self-regulation?
  • Do we allow our learners enough time to think deeply about new ideas and concepts on a daily basis?
  • Do we offer opportunities for learners to make distinctions/ identify the parts of a whole and the whole as parts of a system/ recognise relationships/take multiple perspectives?
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    It was another energising session, fuelled not only by the research but also by the minds and experience of the teachers present. Following next week’s session (3 of 6), each member of the group – myself included – will have roughly six weeks to trial a number of recommended strategies, deeply rooted within their own subject domain, ready to share feedback on early observations when we meet for our 4th session in February.
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Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Next Saturday, I will be one of a number of gathered teachers and researchers who share a common aim – hopeful that, through organic grass roots events like @researchED1, it might be possible to reduce the considerable chasm between educational research and classroom practice.
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Attending this event for the first time last year, I was surprised by the number of delegates present who had sacrificed a day of their weekend to travel, ready to participate in the workshops on offer and be willing to engage in educational conversations with others there. It was refreshing to experience an approach to teaching and learning so rooted in research and, after a powerful day, I left feeling positively challenged.

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That’s why this year I’m really pleased to have been invited to lead a workshop at the @researchED1 Literacy event on Saturday 7th November at Swindon Academy, run by event directors David Didau, Tom Bennett & Hélène O’Shea.
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As Literacy Leader in my school, and also recently appointed as a Lead Learner in research too, I will be delivering a workshop on the importance of teaching vocabulary in order to enhance students’ understanding across the curriculum. Incidentally, the session itself is far more interesting than the somewhat tedious title I gave it: “Improving students’ understanding through direct vocabulary instruction”.
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Many months ago on my blog, I wrote Part 1 of a 2-part post on the new vocabulary programme we were soon to implement in my school as a result of the research we had carried out called ‘Root Planner’. See here. It was always intended that the second part of the duo (‘Root Map’) would be published soon after, outlining the implementation of the programme. For a number of reasons this failed to transpire and, so, albeit a year later, I will be posting Part 2 of this post following my presentation next Saturday.

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A great colleague of mine, Phil Stock, has shared the journey of this whole-school language intervention with me and has recently written about this on his blog here, following the presentation he gave at #TLT15 earlier in October.
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I’m very much looking forward to the day; to hearing some super speakers, to reflecting on my own practice and to embracing the possibilities an event of this nature can bring to teaching and learning.

Hope to see you there!

researchED 2014

Saturday 6th September 2014 saw the second national researchED conference take place; an event for those interested in teaching and research and the complicated relationship between the two. Tom Bennett (@tombennet71) and Helene O’Shea (@hgaldinoshea) captained the ship, welcoming onboard an array of speakers, all who possess a wealth of expertise in their own specialist area.

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While I’ve been to a few education-based events before (both larger national gatherings and more local teachmeets etc.), being my first research conference I didn’t arrive with any predefined expectations of the day. On arrival, I was greeted with a customary lanyard and a less customary branded wicker bag, complete with free branded pen and educational paper. Impressive. After a warm welcome, delegates were invited to attend up to seven different sessions of their choice, all lasting roughly one hour. Session leaders had knowledge in their various different curriculum/research/government fields and the workshops reflected this.

Though I’m sure you’re fascinated to know which public transport route I took and what I had for my lunch, I’ll spare you the details and simply note the ‘takeaways’ I left with from the day. Ideally, this penultimate sentence of my intro would see me writing about how much better equipped I now feel to a) source accurate research around my own subject and pedagogy of Literacy and SEN, and b) know how to carry out my own effective research studies into the best methods of teaching and learning. However, I left the conference feeling a little more perplexed by educational research and yet, at the same time, very much refreshed.

Here’s why:

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Nick Rose (@turnfordblog), a teacher/ researcher/ psychologist

presented his audience with a healthy challenge to approach pedagogical theories and highly regarded, well-known teaching programmes with caution. He was unapologetic in his quest to inform those that were present of the lack of authentic evidence behind some of the most widely used teaching methods we know of in the world of education. His ‘hit list’ included the likes of preferred learning styles (including VAK), right/left brain theory, NLP and even… wait for it… brain gym.

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Rose proposed that educationalists need to develop a real ‘professional skepticism’ around research in education. He commented that schools tend to have a very low immune system, allowing a whole variety of costly approaches and strategies to pass through the door without thoroughly vetting their validity first. This is an interesting concept and one we need to be aware of. Nick’s own personal account of the conference can be found here.

  

David Didau (@learningspy), a teacher/ consultant / author

offered a number of interesting points to consider when looking into edu-research. He quoted Henri Bergson who famously said:

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This supported his claim that brains are not rational but rather illogical and, as humans, we therefore fall into some of the well-known traps below:

Anchoring Effect: a tendency to use anchors or reference points to make decisions and evaluations, sometimes leading us astray.

Sunk Cost Fallacy: following through with a project because of our investment (time/money/effort), irrespective of whether evidence would suggest that is the best thing to do.

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He outlined that progress is not a linear journey but a complex messy one. Didau posed questions such as “How should we measure true progress?” and “With what educational ‘unit’ of measurement should we assess?”

He stated that evidence is not the same as proof, offering a comment on those strategies that ARE well researched and understood to be effective within the classroom environment. These include the ‘Spacing effect’ and the ‘Testing effect’ both of which are explained in his full presentation, available here.

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David left the audience with a quote from Carl Sagan:

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John Thomsett (@johntomsett), a Headteacher from Huntingdon School in York and
driver of a new research project along with his Lead Researcher, Alex Quigley

outlined a number of essentials to consider around educational research. He quoted Tom Bentley, who said:

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What is the point of research if it doesn’t alter the way you work/plan/teach?

While depth of teachers’ subject knowledge and choice of pedagogical approach is undeniably critical in the development of strong teaching and learning, if neither are realigned to best meet the needs of students as a result of research findings, there’s very little point in getting engaged in it at all. If the research suggests what you are doing currently is right, great! That’s welcome affirmation to keep on doing what you’re doing.

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Interestingly, Tomsett commented on his blog this week,

Perpetual self-doubt is a relatively healthy condition in which to exist. At an event like yesterday’s [researchED] I look to take away some learning and what I took away yesterday made me doubt myself and our developmental priorities just a little bit.”

Research is a grey area and one that so many professions have wrestled with, both in the past and still today. But if we fail to recognise its obvious benefits, we are doing a disservice to our students.

Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam), a teacher ‘guru’, researcher, writer,
Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the IoE

gave a great talk entitled, “Why teaching will never be a research-based profession (and why that’s a GOOD thing)”.

You can find a link to his full presentation here.

One of the key points Wiliam made saw him challenge the audience to consider what part ethics plays in educational enquiry. He claimed that researchers have a moral obligation to pursue fair studies that are valuable to school teachers and students, rather than ones carried out simply in an effort to validate one’s own already-held opinion. He raised the interesting point that many published research studies already available in the public arena are selective in the results they share, omitting details of findings that do not support the cause behind their study.

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While Wiliam sees a lot of value in Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) as a method of research, he recognises four main drawbacks.

These include:

  1. Clustering: in comparing two students within the same school, despite potentially being in different groups (ie. one in an active group and the other in a control group), there will inevitably be some similarities through their shared experiences in school etc.
  2. Power: the various teachers/leaders/students involved in an RCT may not follow direct instructions, thus reducing the fairness of th test.
  3. Implementation: there are nearly always logistical barriers to carrying out RCTs, which includes aspects such as timetabling, time allowed for interventions outside of curriculum subjects, relevant staff to support etc.
  4. Context: Perhaps the best way to sum up this point is to quote a blog I came across recently. Dave Algoso, Director of Programmes at Reboot (a social impact firm dedicated to inclusive development and accountable governance) states,

“I think the danger here comes from a false level of precision. We talk about RCTs as having a scientific rigor that distinguishes them from pseudo-experimental approaches. There is some truth to this. However, if the calculated average effect of a program is stripped of all the caveats and nuance about the things we were unable to measure and calculate, then we risk being overconfident in our knowledge. Science brings a potentially inflated sense of our own expertise. RCTs, and the development industry as a whole, would benefit from less certainty and greater humility.”

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Food for thought.
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Wiliam also made reference to the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) toolkit, highlighting how research studies have led educationalists to rate various aspects of teaching and learning based on their supposed level of positive impact on students. According to this list, interventions such as peer tutoring and phonics score very highly (of which I am in full agreement), in comparison to others such as teaching assistants and ability grouping, the latter actually being the only one listed that shows a negative impact score. While there may be some validity in some of these results, Wiliam leads us to question the authenticity behind the scores.

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For example, when considering ability grouping, Wiliam makes the point that in a large majority of cases the best and most experienced teachers are usually assigned to the top sets in any given cohort where groups are set by ability. Similarly, lower sets often do not get the access to the differentiated teaching they require to make solid progress. He argued that the gap widens in these cases, often as a result of the top set moving so fast that no students within the middle range of ability can progress to join those at the ‘top’ and, in contrast, the lower sets move far too slowly, thus preventing weaker students to make sufficient progress. This is a great challenge to schools and school leaders and one that, in my opinion, must be addressed in order for all students to make the most positive progress possible. Dylan Wiliam advised that those within the teaching profession should continue to improve their practice through the process of disciplined enquiry.

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As a final reflection on researchED 2014, while my impression of educational research is perhaps a little more hazy than it was prior to the event, I’ve returned confident that authentic enquiry into “what works” in this profession is crucial. I’m quite sure that it is a responsibility of ours as educators to ensure we are providing students with the best foundation possible for their future. This includes a willingness to invest time and energy into exploring what “best practice” really is within education.

Videos from the event can be found here.  

You can also follow researchED on twitter @researchED1.